After a surprisingly interesting start to the franchise, Michael Bay returns to his brain-numbing roots with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel to the 2007 smash hit.
Based on a series of shapeshifting robot toys, the Saturday morning cartoon was a staple of ‘80s television and nearly ever kid at the time had their own Autobot or Decepticon. Back then, the toys were made mostly of metal parts; today, the toys are generally made of plastic, which is a terrific analogy for the film. More akin to the lazy, economically advantageous materials used on modern toys, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a generic product made from cheap plot devices and marketed exclusively to those who were fans of the original (both the original toys and the first feature film).
The film follows Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) to college where his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) embarrass and cajole in that parents-on-campus cliché we’ve become irrevocably attached to. He meets a group of conspiracy theorists who are looking for proof that the incidents in which Sam was involved were covered up by the government. They seem to have proof but can’t seem to validate it.
Prior to leaving home, his interaction with a tiny sliver of alien technology imparts massive knowledge and information into his “tiny” human brain, leading the Decepticons to come in search of him to try and excise the information to lead them to a great weapon that will help them destroy the world. Of course, the Autobots won’t sit idly by while they try, resulting in more carnage and explosions than the original, but significantly less plotting.
The film plays out like most adventure mysteries, the most similar recent model being the National Treasure films. It’s a tired exploitative storytelling technique and we’re not given any originality or embellishment. At least where National Treasure was concerned, we got plenty of puzzles to work out along with the characters. Here, everything is uncomplicated and laid out before us like a beach blanket. You can bathe in the warmth of the visual effects, but when all is said and done, you still have to spend hours grousing about how the sand just got everywhere and in places it shouldn’t and wondering why you even went to the beach in the first place.
The performances are mostly as you’d expect. I have never though LaBeouf was incredibly talented and he doesn’t truly embarrass himself here, but his is not the performance that grates on your nerves. Jennifer Fox got her big break from Michael Bay on the first film. She’s a beautiful set dressing, but I could swear the machine-possessed toaster at the Witwicky house early in the film has more soul and personality.
Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to their army roles, but get very little screen time and even less development. The audience is forced to remember who they were from the first film and then decide if they really care if they are in the second one. Their presence is entirely unnecessary and, had the plot been written without them in it, I don’t know that we would have even noticed.
There are two new characters added to the film, but whether they will continue into future episodes in the franchise is not known. One of them is Leo Spitz (Ramon Rodriguez), a thoroughly unnecessary sidekick to the already unnecessary duo of Sam and Mikaela (Fox). His off-the-cuff remarks remind me of a bleating goat who won’t shut up and only serves to annoy everyone around it. Leo clues Sam into the second new character, a legendary internet conspiracy theorist called Simmons (John Turturro). He’s yet another superfluous character meant to add zingy one-liners to the story without really giving it any purpose.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will appeal mostly to fans of the original film and of similar action flicks who don’t care if there’s an intelligible plot, passable performances or a measure of originality in their movies. They just want to have loud explosions, pretty women, big, broad visual effects and the ability to not have to think for two-and-a-half hours. Revenge of the Fallen excels at al of those, especially the not thinking part.
-Wesley Lovell (March 26, 2010)